Honey Granola Clusters

  
As the summer sun ripens a delicious array of fruits and vegetables, I make sure that nature’s bounty takes center stage at the kitchen table. Living in the Midwest, we have so few months during the course of the year where we can have locally grown foods literally sitting at our doorstep. Backyards, gardens and farms throughout the county have the opportunity to produce foods situated in patio pots, raised beds, trellising on garden fences and planted in rows along county roads.

As I was mowing the lawn last week, I spied the beginning of a few delicious looking pears that I can’t wait to harvest when they are ready. My grapes are coming along nicely. I have gathered and prepared several generous heads of romaine lettuce, lots of sweet peppers, and fresh herbs. Nothing compares to the flavors of fresh picked fruits and vegetables that accompany family meals carefully prepared from scratch.

   
   
We’ve also started raising bees as a hobby and as a source for our own golden delicious honey. Planting patio pots with wild flower seeds and leaving our land as natural as possible will provide them a source of food as well.  

   
   
This morning I made a batch of granola clusters to accompany many of the fruits that I grew or purchased from a local farm. A dollop or two of plain yogurt finishes off the dish. (The peaches aren’t quite in season yet so I suppose, there are a few things in the dish that I am hopelessly awaiting as the season continues to bring us an abundance of delicious and nutritious delicacies.)

Here’s to bright warm days and unpredictable summer rains… This is definitely one of my most favorite times of the year.
Honey Granola Clusters


1/2 cup canola oil 

1/2 cup honey

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

5 cups old fashioned oats

1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, whatever you prefer)

1 cup dried fruit (raisins, dried cranberries, dried apples, whatever you prefer)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease or line a 11 x 17″ baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk oil, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, salt and cinnamon until sugar is dissolved and oil is well incorporated. Add in the oats, nuts and dried fruit; mixing well.

Pour the oat mixture onto the baking sheet and spread it out into an even layer, firmly packing the oat mixture into the baking sheet.

Bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pan half way through cooking. Remove from oven and let the granola cool at room temperature for at least one hour.

Use a small spoon to scoop up the granola off of the baking sheet using the spoon to break the granola into clusters. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

   

Make these ahead of time; cover them to store in the fridge for a few hours.

 

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Strawberry Fruit Leather

  
When strawberries are in season, I usually try to make several batches of fruit leather for my family. Rolling strawberry fruit leather on wax paper strips makes for a delicious, nutritious, summer treat.  

On my daily drive home from work, I pass a local strawberry farm so I usually stop by to pick up a few buckets of fresh berries. There are lots of recipes for fruit leather, many encourage the addition of sugar and lemon juice. For me, I’d rather find the sweetest, freshest berries possible, pulse them in a blender, and pour them into trays to dehydrate. Simple and sweet, a pure delight. Here’s what I do…

Start with sweet fresh berries… Mine are freshly picked

  
Puree 6 cups of fruit and evenly pour onto fruit leather dehydrator sheets.

   
 Dry at 135 degrees for 4-8 hours. Using your finger, press to make a small indentation in the fruit leather. It should not be wet or sticky. It should be tacky. Check in a few areas around the fruit leather disk. Peel the disk off of the silicone sheet while still warm.  Lay on a sheet of waxed paper.

   
 
Using a scissors, cut into strips and roll up tightly. Store in a lidded container in a cool, dry place.

   
   
Make plenty because they disappear fast! 

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While I used 6 cups of strawberries, here are a few adapted recipes recommended by Nesco Dehydrators:
3 cups applesauce
3 cups strawberries

Or, try mixing:

2 cups applesauce
2 cups bananas
In a blender, puree all ingredients. Pour onto Solid Fruit Roll Sheets.

Place on dehydrator trays. Dry at 135º F for 4 to 8 hours, or until leathery. 

Remove from sheets while still warm. Let cool, slice and wrap.

Roll and store in dark, dry, cool place or in freezer.

  
Of course, It’s always fun to make a very berry smoothly with the leftover purée.

Fiesta Crockpot Chili

  
My daughter was recently invited to a surprise party for a co-worker. She had just started working at the facility and was excited to spend time outside of work with this fun group of coworkers. After the party, she commented that she had a great time and was so happy to be included.  

Later, she told me about one of the items on the menu for the event that evening. She called it “white chili” and tried her best to describe all of the flavors she experienced while tasting the flavorful dish. Several days later, I found the recipe as it was placed on my kitchen counter. Her coworker had neatly typed up the recipe for many attending the party had requested a copy. After looking over all of the ingredients, I was delighted to find that most items were already in my kitchen fridge and pantry. We were experiencing a cooler than normal spring day so I pulled out my crockpot and threw all of the ingredients in (with a few minor changes).  

Here’s my version of the original recipe…

Fiesta Crockpot Chili

2-3 frozen chicken breasts

2 (10 ounce) bags frozen corn

1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed

1 (10 ounce) can Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilies

1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes

8 ounces block cream cheese

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 package Hidden Valley Spicy Ranch Dressing

Cilantro to taste

Add all ingredients to the crockpot; except cilantro. Cook 6 hours on high or 8 hours on low setting. Shred chicken 30 minutes before completed hours, return to crockpot and add cilantro. When serving, top with tortilla strips and pour over tender noodles or cooked rice.
Here’s the recipe as I received it…

Jill’s Special Chili

2 frozen chicken breasts

1 bag frozen corn

1 can black beans, rinsed

1 can Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilies

4 oz cream cheese

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon paprika

1 package Ranch Fiesta

Cilantro to taste

Add all ingredients to the crockpot; except cilantro

Cook 6 hours or high or 8 hours on low

Shred chicken 30 minutes before completed hours and add cilantro

Glazed Almond Cutouts

  
Over the years, I have had a few favorite “go to” cutout cookie recipes.  Most have similar ingredients and use specific techniques for preparing a crispy, yet tender almond flavored disk. Recently, we purchased a 3 pound package of bees and placed them in a backyard hive. Since then, I have been testing recipes that have a very special ingredient in the mix…that ingredient is honey.   I recently made this recipe for a baby shower that my office hosted for a co-worker. While I don’t eat a lot of sweets, I’m told these crispy, tender morsels tasted divine.   

   
Glazed Almond Cutouts

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cups butter, softened

3/4 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and baking soda; set aside. In a separate bowl, beat butter, sugar and salt until creamy. Beat in yolk, then honey and extracts until smooth. Carefully beat in the flour mixture until smooth. Divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic and refrigerate 15 to 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out dough  to a 1/4″ thickness.  With a 2″ cookie cutter, cut shapes and place on cookie sheets. Optional: freeze for 30 minutes before placing in preheated oven. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden.

Let cookies cool on cookie sheet 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely. Glaze cookies and decorate cookies as desired.  The recipe that I use for the glaze can be found here.

Hearty Apple and Oatmeal Pancakes

  
One of our daughters took the train home from college this weekend. She said she was missing mom’s home cooking and the quiet of the country. We are always thrilled to have her home and I was up to the task as I whipped up some of her favorite foods.  

Her request for oatmeal pancakes had me thinking of a new combination of flavors that I knew she would love. I had just made a batch of homemade applesauce and my husband had several jars of pure maple syrup that he had processed after tapping our maple trees this spring. I quickly mixed up the batter for the pancakes and as they cooked on the griddle, I carefully added some of the cinnamon applesauce.

 A quick flip of the pancake to finish the underside, and they were done. I made several batches so that she could bring a few back to school when she returned on Sunday. 

   

 I received a lovely text when she arrived back in Evanston. A big thank you with lots of “heart” emojies covered my screen. She said that she was having the pancakes for dinner. Somehow, I think she’ll be having them for nearly every meal until she finishes them up. Then she’ll be back to eating the ole’ college favorites of pb&j, canned soup, and boxed macaroni and cheese.

Hearty Oatmeal Pancakes

1 cup old fashioned oats

1 cup flour

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cups milk

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup canola oil

Combine oats, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, milk, oil, and extracts. Stir into dry ingredients; just until moistened. Pour batter onto lightly greased, hot griddle. Flip pancakes when bubbles form on top of pancakes. Continue to cook until underside is golden brown. 
 Chunky Homemade Applesauce
8 cups apples, peeled, cored, and chopped

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a large pot, combine apples, sugars and cinnamon. Cook over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes; while stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Mash apples to desired consistency. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Simple Cinnamon Rolls

  

We were having dinner the other night and my oldest daughter reported that she would be attending a “study session” the following day. Her class had a final exam on the horizon and a group was getting together to study. This would be an early morning session so she said she wanted to be sure to stop at the store to pick up a coffee cake before the event.

To save her time, I volunteered to make a simple pan of cinnamon rolls that I was sure the group would enjoy. I knew that I had all of the basic ingredients on hand to assemble and bake them before leaving for work in the morning. A traditional cinnamon roll recipe can be quite time consuming, but with the help of this semi-homemade recipe, it’s a jiffy of a job.

I have to be perfectly honest, when I’m in a hurry, I often don’t have the time to wait for the rolls to rise before putting them in the oven… I simply preheat the oven after I have mixed the dough and prepared the rolls. It usually takes about 20-25 minutes to preheat the oven and clean up the kitchen. Then, I pop them in the oven and let them rise while they bake.

  

Simple Cinnamon Rolls

(Adapted from the Betty Crocker Recipe; Cake-Mix Cinnamon Rolls)

1 1/4 cups warm water 

1 package regular active dry yeast

1 box white cake mix

2 1/2 to 3 cups flour

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 cup store bought cream cheese frosting or glaze
Grease 2-9″ square baking pans with shortening or cooking spray.  In small bowl, mix warm water and yeast; let stand 5 minutes.

In large bowl, mix cake mix and 2 cups of the flour. Add water-yeast mixture; stir with wooden spoon until dough forms. Add remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time, until it comes together in a ball. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in warm place until doubled. Meanwhile, melt butter in small bowl, and set aside to cool. In another small bowl, mix brown sugar and cinnamon.

On lightly floured surface, roll dough into large rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Brush with 1/2 melted butter; sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Starting with 1 long end, tightly roll up dough into a log. Cut into 12 rolls. Brush with remaining butter.

  
Place rolls in pan(s); cover with plastic wrap. Let rise about 30 minutes while you heat oven to 375°F. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes; spread with frosting or with powdered sugar glaze found here.

  
  
Here’s the original recipe…

https://www.bettycrocker.com/how-to/tipslibrary/baking-tips/cake-mix-cinnamon-rolls

Here’s another great “no-rise” recipe that I often use. Delicious!

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/241917/quick-cinnamon-rolls/

Butterscotch Blondies

  While on our annual spring break visit to Disney World, we passed many bakery style shops displaying an assortment of carefully prepared baked goods and other sweet treats. Most items were meticulously iced with a thick layer of frosting representing the familiar red, yellow, black, and white colors that Mickey and Minnie traditionally wear. For my family, this thick layer of icing is a bit too much; the “sweet” on top of the “sweet” is more than we can take. Especially when there are so many other treats that entice us throughout the parks.  
This year, as we were checking out the shops, my oldest daughter spied a scrumptious square of deliciousness that reminded her of my traditional blondie recipe. Unfortunately, a layer of icing donned the top. In a disappointed tone, she asked if I might bake some blondies when we returned home. She also requested the addition of butterscotch chips. Here is my traditional recipe with a twist of butterscotch and walnut flavors.  

Butterscotch Blondies

3/4 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup water

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 2/3 cups butterscotch chips

1 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9″ baking pan.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs and water; beat well. In a medium bowl, Combine flour, baking soda and salt; add to butter mixture, mixing well until completely combined. Stir in butterscotch chips and nuts. Batter will be thick. Spread into prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until top is golden brown and center is set. Cool completely. Cut into 1 1/2″ bars.